Magazine article American Forests

Connecting People to Forests

Magazine article American Forests

Connecting People to Forests

Article excerpt

Our board of directors recently made an important change to American Forests' mission statement. Our old mission, "to protect and restore forests, for the health of the planet and the good of its inhabitants," focused on our important work in the field. Our new mission, which appears above, changes the focus a bit and encompasses several other components of our work, including what is perhaps our greatest and most important challenge.

According to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, 80.7 percent of the U.S. population now lives in urban areas. With an increasing number of Arneri-cans having little exposure to the natural world, inspiring people to care about forests--particularly wildland forests that seem worlds away from the reality of most city dwellers--is increasingly challenging. At the same time, it is also becoming increasingly more important.

Forests, of course, are a major source of fresh water and clean air, as well as the primary source of terrestrial biodiversity They also provide a tremendous natural carbon sink, removing C[O.sub.2] and other dangerous greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. But while these benefits are essential for life, they seem abstract, too big to relate to in a personal way. So how can we inspire people to value and protect forests if we can't make the connection to people's everyday lives?

Like many people, my connection to forests came by way of personal experience. During my college years. I spent countless hours hiking through the hundreds of acres of woods and trails that surrounded my small, New England college. During warmer weather, a rocky outcropping overlooking a woodland pond became one of my favorite spots to study. I loved the sensory explosion that these woods provided in autumn: the spectacular colors of mixed hardwoods, the crunch of dried leaves underfoot, the intensified smell of fall. I walked these woods in winter, followed the tracks of deer and fox and squirrels, filled with wonder by the glistening ice-coated branches and the depth of quiet. During this time, I learned to feel at home in the forest, discovering that these woods made me feel more alive, more attuned to my senses and more fully human than any other experience I had previously known.

What many of us have long known from personal experience is increasingly being proven by scientific research. …

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